Change-UpFebruary 07, 2007
Blocked and Loaded
By Patrick Sullivan

What if Miller Huggins hadn't opted for a shake-up of his starting nine on June 2, 1925 and what if Wally Pipp had not suffered a skull fracture a month later? Is it conceivable that the Yankees would have missed out on Lou Gehrig's .295/.365/.531 partial seaon in 1925? Would his .313/.420/.549 never have come to be in 1926 and can you imagine having a guy riding the pine who is capable of the .373/.474/.765 line Gehrig put up in 1927?!?

It's an extreme example but one that manifests the opportunity cost of letting a younger, more talented player take a backseat to an "established" veteran. The phenomenon is often referred to as "blocking"; when a player who is younger, in all likelihood better and most likely cheaper takes a back seat to a veteran whose performance fails to live up to his reputation. Heading into 2007, there are a number of players that slot outside their clubs' current starting nine depth charts who almost certainly would be a better option than the guy in front of him. I will try and highlight some of the coming season's most egregious block candidates around the Bigs and point to a couple of projection systems, PECOTA and ZIPS, to help evidence my choices.

Matt Diaz, Atlanta Braves

                  PECOTA (AVG/OBP/SLG)       ZIPS (AVG/OBP/SLG)    
Matt Diaz           .302/.345/.486            .311/.348/.483
Jeff Francoeur      .288/.330/.506            .268/.303/.469

Jeff Francoeur is the local kid who burst onto the scene in the Summer of 2005 but has cooled ever since. His raw athleticism and strength make scouts drool while his 2006 season of 29 home runs and 103 RBI's serve to cloak just how big of an offensive liability he is. His .293 on-base and 23 walks versus 132 strike outs in 686 plate appearances last year tell you all you need to know about him. For his part Matt Diaz is a dependable item. He has hit respectably whenever given regular time and plays a solid enough corner outfield. Atlanta's left field job should be his.

Josh Fields, Chicago White Sox

                        PECOTA                     ZIPS
Josh Fields         .260/.328/.459            .262/.336/.445       
Scott Podsednik     .264/.329/.371            .261/.331/.354  
Darin Erstad        .241/.295/.321            .273/.326/.379

Josh Fields has played third base for most of his career but has also played some outfield and almost certainly is athletic enough to make the switch fulltime. The White Sox even list him on their depth chart as an outfielder. Unfortunately, there is a gaggle of mediocre outfielders crowding the outfield scene on the South Side. In addition to Scott Podsednik and Darrin Erstad, there is also Ryan Sweeney, a couple of years younger than Fields who may develop into the better player but for now is more or less the same hitter with significantly less pop. The Pale Hose hopes for 2007 in part rest on Ozzie Guillen realizing Fields is his best option for left field.

Matt Murton, Chicago Cubs

                        PECOTA                     ZIPS
Matt Murton         .304/.365/.476            .299/.361/.446
Jacque Jones        .284/.343/.473            .263/.320/.456

I am willing to concede that in this instance maybe the defensive gap more than makes up the offensive difference but I don't know. Murton has the much more sound approach at the plate, is six years Jones's junior and much cheaper. In other words, Murton looks like the superior option, particularly if the Cubbies could find someone to take Jones off of their hands.

Chris Ianetta, Colorado Rockies

                        PECOTA                     ZIPS
Chris Ianetta       .291/.379/.481            .269/.358/.465
Javy Lopez          .287/.339/.472            .260/.312/.399

There is a major tenet of team-building that Dan O'Dowd and the Rockies seem to be violating heading into 2007. When it is time to give a youngster a job, when the evidence suggests that he has demonstraded the ability to handle everyday duties, you give him a job. Insuring yourself by tacking a Javy Lopez on cheaply for one year is all well and good but the signs I have seen this off-season point to the Rox planning on Lopez being the starter. It's too bad. The 24 year-old Ianetta has the potential to be one of the better hitting catchers in baseball right now, which is reason alone to play him. When you consider the potential to stunt his development by burying him behind Lopez, then the decision to start him on the bench drifts from stupidity towards lunacy.

Billy Butler, Kansas City Royals

                        PECOTA                      ZIPS
Billy Butler        .295/.347/.455             .292/.339/.447  
Reggie Sanders      .259/.323/.466             .252/.312/.438

I understand that Billy Butler is only 21 and you need to balance long-term and short-term interests for your club. But I also understand that a downtrodden franchise needs to demonstrate to its fanbase that it is serious about winning. Trotting the 39 year old Sanders out there everyday for production guaranteed to be well below acceptable levels for a Major League corner outfielder messages that the status quo is perfectly acceptable in Kansas City. Alternatively, handing the left field reins over to Butler, who would join quality players David DeJesus and Emil Brown in the outfield and fellow stand-out rookie Alex Gordon in the lineup, delivers an altogether different message. Give Butler the job.

Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers

                        PECOTA                      ZIPS
Matt Kemp           .295/.346/.507             .292/.342/.478
Juan Pierre         .290/.337/.371             .296/.341/.380

Signing crummy players to long, expensive contracts is bad. Overlooking good, young, cheap players is bad. Signing a crummy player to a long, expensive contract that will serve to block the good, young, cheap player is downright criminal. Now I understand that Kemp has his defensive shortcomings as a center-fielder but for one season he would have been passable and definitely netted out superior than Pierre. I say one season because if the Dodgers were serious about opening their pocketbook for a center-fielder, two that are genuinely good players are free agents after the 2007 season (Torii Hunter and Andruw Jones). Andruw Jones flanked by Kemp and Andre Ethier would have looked pretty nice in 2008, don't you think Dodger fans? Instead it's four more years of Pierre and who knows when Kemp will get his regular shot?

Adam Lind, Toronto Blue Jays

                        PECOTA                      ZIPS
Adam Lind           .296/.349/.493             .296/.350/.466
Reed Johnson        .275/.329/.420             .286/.346/.423

This one is not too egregious given that Johnson is a pretty good player and coming off a career season. But the numbers above give you a pretty good indication that Adam Lind figures to be the better option if just given the job outright. And in the ultra-competitive AL East, can the Blue Jays afford to give away runs and wins? If the Jays want to optimize their chances of qualifying for their first post-season berth since they won the World Series in 1993, they will give Lind the nod.


These are the players that I see catching the short end of the stick in 2007. Maybe I have too little faith and some of the teams will make the right personnel decisions. Or perhaps I will even look sillier. Maybe Reggie Sanders will have a huge year?


In the comments section, I would love to know which position players readers think will be deserving of a more prominent role than they will be given.


Matt Kemp .295/.346/.507 .290/.337/.371

You have Pierre's PECOTA numbers in Kemp's Zips column.

Yeesh. Good catch, Kevin. Thanks for the heads-up.

Here is one that I noticed (don't have Pecotas though).

Joey Votto Zips .259/.334/.451

Scott Hatteberg Zips .270/.360/.398
Jeff Conine Zips .266/.333/.394

The latter two are likely to split the time at first base. Votto will likely spend most of 2007 in AAA, despite the fact he will probably post a much higher OPS than either of the other two players.

Mark the Dodgers down as multiple offenders:

James Loney

Nomar Garciaparra

Not as bad as Kemp but considering that Nomar is injury prone and Loney is a superior defender it makes that extension look dumb.

Andy LaRoche
PECOTA- .285/.356/.490

Wilson Betemit

The Dodgers stockpiled all this great young talent but doesnt seem to want to let them play.

I think Diaz has to beat out only Langerhans and Wilson to start. And Cox already said Wilson would be a bench player.

I should have also noted I thought the article was something worth noting. Thanks Patrick

Hey Patrick great stuff, but I think you are totally missing the boat on Iannetta being blocked by Lopez. The Rockies have made it known that the Javy Lopez signing is more for insurance for Yorvit Torrealba and his shoulder as a backup, than it is for Iannetta. There have been repeated statements by Clint Hurdle Dan O'Dowd, and others that Chris will play at least two or three times a week this season and with his bat, you can trust that the number will only increase.

Luckily for the Cubs, Murton and Jones would make a great platoon situation if Cliff Floyd is able to play every day.

Thanks Brandi. Would not be the first time I missed the boat. I have read that Ianetta will play but it seems like he only will do so sparingly (as you mention, 2 or 3 times a week). That doesn't seem to make much sense to me. And yeah, I should have included Torrealba. Here are his projections:

PECOTA: .263/.323/.421
ZIPS: .240/.297/.409

Blech. The job should be Ianetta's from the start.

Cool article. What do you think about Erick Aybar? Seems to me like he's a better production to cost value than Orlando Cabrera right now and, given some time to learn the position, would have been a better long-term CF option than Gary Matthews.

Lastings Milledge or Ben Johnson and Shawn Green, nuff said.

I assume you are working exclusively with position players, but the Ramon Ortiz signing by the Twins is so egregious it must be mentioned.

With youngsters like Garza, Perkins, and Slowey waiting in the wings, the thought of the Twins fielding Silva, Ponson, and Ortiz three out of every five days is almost nauseating...

Also Ryan Braun for Corey Koskie.

"The Dodgers stockpiled all this great young talent but doesn't seem to want to let them play."

Ah, the beauty of the Ned Colletti/Grady Little regime. All these kids have to "pay their dues" and learn to "play the game the right way" while ABs go to older, less productive, and more expensive players. It's the credo of the Grizzled Old Veterans Society. At least Logan White has amassed plenty of prospects they can trade away the next time a Mark Hendrickson becomes available.

>> All these kids have to "pay their dues" and learn to "play the game the right way" while ABs go to older, less productive, and more expensive players.

I like prospects as much as the next guy. But, to me, at this point, it's ridiculous to suggest that Nomar is less productive than Loney. Atleast Colletti kept the Nomar contract short.

On the comment about Jones bridging the gap between him and Murton on defense, Dewan's +/- system might disagree. It actually rated Murton as one of the better LF's out there last year and Jones one of the worst RF's. In fact, Jones had one of the worst OF arms in baseball and IMO doesn't belong in RF. I'd much rather play Murton every day, but a platoon with Jones in LF might work out great assuming Soriano in RF and Pie in CF.

If Butler should be in the KC outfield with Dejesus and Brown, joined by Gordon in the lineup at 3B, where does Teahen play?

Great question, Lance - a bit of an oversight on my part I guess. My gripe about Butler does not apply if Gordon starts and Teahen is moved to the OF. Letting Butler get a year of AAA with an OF of Teahen, DeJesus and Brown would be fine.

I just hope Reggie Sanders isn't taking time from any of Gordon, Teahen or Butler.

Nothing in Loney's minor league career or his stint in the majors last year suggests that he'd be incapable of putting up numbers at least comparable to Nomar's, and that's not even counting his superior defensive skills. He's also vastly less expensive, not that price seems to matter to the Dodgers.

It's not that the Nomar contract is such an egregious error that it's going to haunt the club for years (like Juan Pierre's), it's just that it's completely unnecessary. I guess when Nomar goes down with another injury in mid-May it'll be a moot point, however.

>> "Nothing in Loney's minor league career or his stint in the majors last year suggests that he'd be incapable of putting up numbers at least comparable to Nomar's"

First, you're backtracking from saying Nomar is less productive to the sentiment that Loney "isn't incapable".

Seems to me the odds of Loney outproducing a healthy Nomar are not very good. Loney has done little to suggest he could duplicate Nomar's production as soon as 2007. All he's got is Las Vegas and a decent small sample with the Dodgers biased by a fluky triple totals and one Coors game which the two teams combined to score 30 runs in. Loney's A and AA stats suggested he'd be a fringy 1st baseman. Yet you think Loney will produce better than a guy who was OPS'ing over 1000 at last year's all-star break. Nah, that drinking the prospect kool-aid.

Plus, in Colletti's scenario you have Loney as injury insurance for Nomar. It's not like he's traded Loney for a LOOGY.

For the Twins:

Jason Kubel

vs. Lew Ford, Jason Tyner and Rondell White.

To be fair, this isn't so much a result of preferring "veteran presence" as it is about being concerned over how Kubel's knees will hold up on the Dome turf.

Are you actually suggesting that Matt Diaz should play ahead of Jeff Francoeur???? Yes, Franoeur has a very poor bb% resulting in a sub-par OBP but for goodness sake he is only 23 years old!!

How about Ryan Braun vs. the Terrible Twosome of Craig Counsell and Tony Graffanino?

Are you actually suggesting that Matt Diaz should play ahead of Jeff Francoeur???? Yes, Franoeur has a very poor bb% resulting in a sub-par OBP but for goodness sake he is only 23 years old!!

Then send him to Richmond to develop. In the interim, while they have games to win, the Braves can play Diaz.

I think you're seriously overvaluing Garciaparra's value as a first baseman. Last year was the first season since '03 in which he was able to get in over 400 ABs, and he posted a .298 EQA/4.2 WARP3/27.6 VORP season with subpar defense. Those are not great numbers by any means, and it's ridiculous to think a player of Loney's talent couldn't match that standard. Garciaparra may have been a very good SS, but his production is only average for a 1B, and his bat doesn't figure to improve with age. Furthermore, I think it's about time we do away with the caveat of "if he's healthy", because it's abundantly clear he can't make it through a full season.

I don't know of anyone who's classified Loney as a fringe prospect; he's a slick fielder who figures to hit for a high average with developing power--if he's ever given the chance. Both his traditional scouting profile and his PECOTA projections bear that out. But I'm sure both he and the Dodgers would be better served by letting him sit in AAA for another season--after all, hitting .380 over 100 games doesn't count if you play for Las Vegas.

Or Toronto again, with John McDonald (and now Royce Clayton) blocking... urr... umm... Yeah.

If Pierre blocking Kemp is a double crime, is J.P.'s shortstop plan a triple crime? At least the Dodgers fans can hope (in the nicest possible way) Pierre twists his ankle or something.

"I think you're seriously overvaluing Garciaparra's value as a first baseman"

And I think you are seriously overestimating a rookie's ability to step in and produce an OPS >=875 as an everyday player.

I think the article may be a little hard on the Dodgers' front office. The Dodgers' GM has to balance "winning a pennant now" with integrating young prospects onto the ML team. I'm not exactly a fan of Pierre, but I do understand why management may be reluctant to hand over an important defensive position like CF to a youngster whose defense may be questionable. Also, I think the prospects may be "capable" of achieving their PECOTA or ZIPS projections, but the reliability of the projection in a player's rookie year has to be lower than the reliability of the projection for a veteran. If Garciaparra is healthy, it seems to me that you can be highly confident he will meet the projections...but the young guy's projections are less certain because they are supported mostly by minor league numbers, rather than major league data. I can see the GM's viewpoint: if you start two prospects and they don't succeed this year, then you may have ended your pennant chances (because you didn't sign the veteran players), but if you start the veterans like Nomar, the young guys are always available for call up.